Bengal Polls 2021: Fight Begins With 30 Seats In Jangalmahal
In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Jangalmahal voted for the BJP. The TMC is now looking to win back lost ground.
The first phase of the West Bengal Assembly elections 2021 will begin on 27 March, with 30 out of 294 assembly constituencies in the state going to polls.
The elections, which will end on 29 April, will be conducted over eight phases spanning a little over a month. The results for the same will be declared on 2 May.
The 30 seats polling in the first phase are spread across the districts of Purulia, Jhargram, Bankura, East Midnapore and West Midnapore.
This area is popularly known as the Jangalmahal and has a high scheduled caste and scheduled tribe population. While all seats in Purulia and Jhargram are polling in the first phase, Bankura, East Midnapore and West Midnapore will see some constituencies polling in the second phase as well.
The Importance of Jangalmahal
Historically, Jangalmahal has been one of the most politically turbulent, backward and under-represented areas in West Bengal.
The area is especially known for the massive Maoist insurgencies and violence that shook the place from the 90s to about 2011.
While it has voted for Congress in the past, Jangalmahal became a Left bastion since the Left Front government came to power in 1977.
Thereafter, in the 2011 West Bengal elections, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress won over the area as they party came to power, ending 34 years of Left rule. In the 2016 elections, too, while the Left-Congress alliance managed to win back portions of Jangalmahal, it still strongly stayed with Mamata.
Until the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, that is.
In Lok Sabha elections of 2019, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sweeped the Jangalmahal districts, almost entirely winning districts like Purulia and Bankura. The saffron party managed to swing the tribal and SC votes to its favour, ultimately winning 18 out of the 42 parliamentary seats in the state.
In the 2021 state elections, therefore, the Trinamool Congress is looking to win back lost ground, as is the Left-Congress alliance.
Laboratory of Bengal’s Caste Experiment
These elections in Bengal will go down in history as the first in the state where voting along caste lines has been openly discussed. Both the BJP and the TMC have made concerted efforts since the Lok Sabha elections to win over the scheduled tribe and scheduled caste votes in these districts.
While the TMC rejigged its entire organisational structure last year to make way for more SC/ST representation among it ranks, the BJP used Hindutva to consolidate what they essentially see as a “Hindu vote”.
The TMC’s fall from favour in Jangalmahal was also attributed to alleged wide-scale corruption in the mid-ranks of the party, which prevented many government schemes from reaching the people. In areas where these schemes did manage to get implemented, party workers were accused of taking a ‘cut’ from the share of the beneficiaries.
Both the BJP and the TMC, over the course of their election campaigns, have promised OBC status to Teli, Tamul, Mahasyas and Sahas communities. Both parties have also reached out to leaders of important caste and tribal groups like the Kurmis and Mahatos to offer them better representation.
Meanwhile, another factor contributed to the BJP’s massive gains in Jangalmahal in 2019 was that Left voters, from many areas, shifted en masse to the saffron party.
As the TMC and the BJP tried to woo the castes, the Left-Congress alliance made an attempt to bring traditional voters back in their fold.
In order to form a government in the state, the BJP is looking to hold on to the gains in Jangalmahal. The other parties, especially the TMC, is trying to win back some lost ground at least so that they can thwart the BJP’s efforts by consolidating votes in areas of south Bengal, which is a TMC stronghold.
Any change in Jangalmahal’s voting pattern from 2019 will throw this election wide open.
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